Dualism in the Synoptics

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination

The paucity of pre-Christian witness to the satanological terminology in the Synoptic temptation accounts, together with the absence from the Synoptics of established Second Temple terms for supernatural Satan figures (Satanael, Mastema, Belial, Shemihazah, Azâzêl, etc), gives reason to doubt the Synoptic writers held the cosmological dualistic views of their contemporaries. An examination of dualism in the Synoptics, within their Second Temple Period context, leads in a very different direction.

Gammie’s taxonomy of ten types of dualism1 is typical of the literature; Frey offers a very similar taxonomy.2 Three of the categories within these taxonomies represent possible interpretations of the Synoptic temptation accounts within their original Second Temple Period context.3

1. Cosmological dualism, ‘the world is divided into two opposing forces of good and evil, darkness and light, as in Zoroastrianism’.4 Cosmological dualism is present in intertestamental texts such as 1 Enoch and Book of Jubilees, as well as in many of the Qumran texts.5 A cosmological understanding of the temptation accounts would be that Jesus was tempted by a supernatural evil being.

2. Ethical dualism, ‘opposition between two groups of people, the righteous versus the wicked, the godly versus the impious’.6 Ethical dualism is present in the Qumran Two Spirits Treatise (1QS 3:13-4:26),7 and War Scroll.8 An ethical understanding of the temptation accounts would be that Jesus was tempted by a human adversary opposed to his messianic mission, or that the temptations were dramatizations of Jesus’ struggle with opponents of his messianic mission throughout his life.

3. Psychological dualism, ‘the opposition between two opposing principles or impulses within human’.9 Psychological dualism is present in the Wisdom of Sirach,10 4 Ezra,11 Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs,12 Philo of Alexandria,13 Qumran text 4Q Barkhi Nafshi,14 and the early rabbinic literature;15 the Qumran War Scroll may also include psychological dualism.16 A psychological understanding of the temptation accounts would be that Jesus was tempted by his own personal desires.

Series Navigation<< Satanological terminology in the Synoptics: summary
  1. ‘Gammie (1974) distinguishes ten types of dualism: (1) cosmic (or macrocosmic): the world is divided into two opposing forces of good and evil, darkness and light, as in Zoroastrianism; (2) temporal: the opposition between this age and the age to come; (3) ethical: opposition between two groups of people, the righteous versus the wicked, the godly versus the impious; (4) psychological (or microcosmic): the opposition between two opposing principles or impulses within human; (5) spatial: a contrast between the heaven and the earth, the mundane and the supra-mundane; (6) theological or prophetic: the contrast between God and human, Creator and his creation; (7) physical: the division between matter and spirit; (8) metaphysical: the opposition between God and Satan; (9) soteriological: the division of humankind into those who believe and those who reject a saviour; and (10) cosmological or ontological: a form of cosmic dualism where the opposition is not absolute. The sovereign God only permits an opposition between good and evil forces.’, Luke L. Cheung, The Genre, Composition and Hermeneutics of the Epistle of James (Paternoster Press, 2003), 223–224. []
  2. ‘Other, more detailed criteria have been used for dualism by scholars working on early Jewish and Christian materials. These have been collected by Jörg Frey (1997: 282–85) in ten categories: metaphysical (two equal cosmic powers as the cause of the world), cosmic (the world and humanity divided into two opposing but not necessarily coeternal or causal forces), spatial (division into heaven and earth, above and below, etc.), eschatological or temporal (two separate aeons or ages), ethical (humankind divided into good against evil), soteriological (division not on account of deeds but of faith and obedience versus unbelief and disobedience), theological or prophetic (God and humanity, Creator and creation), physical (matter against spirit), anthropological (the separate principles of body and soul), and psychological (the internal division between good and evil intentions).’, Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, “Dualism,” ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 553. []
  3. The Second Temple Period is typically dated from 530 BCE to 70 CE (most of the New Testament books were written during this time or shortly afterwards); these texts provide evidence for what Jewish and Greek writers of the time meant by certain words and concepts, and provide evidence for how the original audience of the gospels would have read them. []
  4. Luke L. Cheung, The Genre, Composition and Hermeneutics of the Epistle of James (Paternoster Press, 2003), 223. []
  5. ‘The need for such a radical solution becomes apparent when we realize that most Qumranic texts, including the Thanksgiving Scroll, did not adopt the psychological dualism of the doctrine of two spirits, and remained only with the neat cosmic and social divisions.’, Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires: “Yetzer Hara” and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 51. []
  6. Luke L. Cheung, The Genre, Composition and Hermeneutics of the Epistle of James (Paternoster Press, 2003), 223. []
  7. ‘TST contains both cosmic and ethical dualism, the former being reflected in the Prince of Light and the Angel of Darkness, which correspond to the spirit of truth and the spirit of wickedness, respectively. The latter relates to the degree to which humans demonstrate the operations of these spirits in their deeds.’, Mark D. Mathews, Riches, Poverty, and the Faithful: Perspectives on Wealth in the Second Temple Period and the Apocalypse of John (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 90. []
  8. ‘The expression “at/from the hand of Belial” also suggests a specific being. But only once, in the War Scroll, do we find an explicit identification of Belial as an evil supernatural being: “You have made Belial to corrupt, an angel (of) mstmh (=hostility)” (1QM 13:10-11). On the whole, one notes the relative paucity in the scrolls of unequivocal personal formulations concerning this Belial. But however few they may be they clearly attest to the usage in the scrolls of bly’l also as a personal name. So the term bly’l functions in the Qumran texts in two ways: either as the appellation of the evil archdemon or as an abstract quality characteristic of this evil creature and of those who obey him.’,  Devorah Dimant, “Between Qumran Sectarian and Non-Sectarian Texts: The Case of Belial and Mastema,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls and Contemporary Culture : Proceedings of the International Conference Held at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem (July 6-8, 2008) (ed. Adolfo D. Roitman, Lawrence H. Schiffman, and Shani Tzoref; vol. 93; Studies On theTexts of the Desert of Judah; Leiden: Brill, 2011), 240-241. []
  9. Luke L. Cheung, The Genre, Composition and Hermeneutics of the Epistle of James (Paternoster Press, 2003), 223. []
  10. In Ben Sira’s worldview, there is no room for devils, fallen angels, or evil spirits, not even for a mischievous officer of the divine court as the satan of Job, or for a domesticated demon as the Asmodeus of Tobit.’, Gabriele Boccaccini, “Where Does Ben Sira Belong?,” in Studies in the Book of Ben Sira: Papers of the Third International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books, Shime’on Centre, Pápa, Hungary, 18-20 May, 2006 (ed. Géza Xeravits and József Zsengellér; vol. 127; Supplement to the Journal of the Study of Judaism; Brill, 2008), 36; ‘In Ben Sira as well, one finds a psychological dualism, into which he transposes the same set of opposites as that which occurs in his discussion of “all the works of the Most High” (כל מעשׂה העליון) in Sir 33:7–15—evil and good, death and life, sinners and the righteous (v. 14).’, S. L. Mattila, “Ben Sira and the Stoics: A Reexamination of the Evidence,” Journal of Biblical Literature 119 (2000): 483. []
  11. ‘Unlike Mastema and Satan, it is not a cosmic being but a fully internalized entity that resides inside the human heart. This phenomenon can be found in various Jewish texts, from Philo to Fourth Ezra, but the most obvious parallels are found in patristic texts.’, Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires: “Yetzer Hara” and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 8. []
  12. ‘In both T. Jud. 20:1-3 and T. Ash. 1:3-5, one finds a psychological dualism, also closely paralleled in the Community Rule (1Qs 4:23b-26), in which “the Spirits of Truth and Deceit struggle within the human heart”’, S. L. Mattila, “Ben Sira and the Stoics: A Reexamination of the Evidence,” Journal of Biblical Literature 119 (2000): 483. []
  13. ‘There is one passage in Philo that refers to a tradition similar to the “Teaching on the Two Spirits”: in his Questions on Exodus 12:23c he explains the dualism of the two powers inside the human soul, one for salvation and the other for perdition (QE 1.23). However, he immediately emphasizes the psychological contrast of two different inclinations, whose conflict influences the moral behavior of the individual.’, Jutta Leonhardt-Balzer, “Dualism,” ed. John J. Collins and Daniel C. Harlow, The Eerdmans Dictionary of Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 556. []
  14. ‘The non-human, external, and demonic role played by the śātān does not suit the author’s focus, which is wholly on the internal change that has been effected within the human being and the conversion of his innermost parts. For these purposes, the śātān is transformed into a wholly internal evil inclination that is the abstract personification of the human desire to sin. This evil inclination, like the heart of stone, is removed entirely and replaced with a positive counterpart.’, Miryam Brand, Evil Within and Without: The Source of Sin and Its Nature as Portrayed in Second Temple Literature (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 48. []
  15. The refusal of the rabbis to accept the grand cosmological models subjecting humans to external superhuman forces left the yetzer alone to account for their sinfulness, thus making it the center of their anthropology.’, Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires: “Yetzer Hara” and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 53; ‘Rabbinic yetzer should be located in a process of the internalization of demons that preserves demonic traits while locating them inside the human mind.’, Ishay Rosen-Zvi, Demonic Desires: “Yetzer Hara” and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011), 54; ‘This correlation of the Evil Inclination with Satan is also found in the rabbinic literature. According to E. Urbach (472), “Rabbinic teaching did to some extent personify ‘the Evil Inclination,’ to whom were ascribed attributes, aims, and forms of activity that direct man, even before he was explicitly identified, as by the Amora Resh Laqish, with Satan and the Angel of Death.”, Martinus C. de Boer, Galatians: A Commentary (Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 338; ‘Rabbinic Judaism rejected the dualistic tendencies of the Apocalyptic writers and insisted upon the unity of the one, benevolent Lord. Evil results, the rabbis argued, from the imperfect state of the created world (metaphysical evil) and from human misuse of free will (moral evil), not from the machinations of a cosmic enemy. Most of the rabbis rejected the concept of a personified being leading the forces of evil and preferred to speak of the Devil only as a symbol of the tendency to evil within humans. According to rabbinic teaching, two antagonistic spirits inhabit each individual: one a tendency to good (yetser ha-tob) and the other a tendency to evil (yetser ha-ra).’, Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History (Cornell University Press, 1992), 51. []
  16. ‘Scholars are in disagreement over whether the two spirits should be interpreted primarily as cosmic, angelic spirits that influence people externally or as psychological dispositions within people.’, Mladen Popović, “Light and Darkness in the Treatise on the Two Spirits,” in Dualism in Qumran (ed. Géza G. Xeravits; Library of Second Temple Studies; A&C Black, 2010), 153. []

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